Some years ago I happened upon one of my alma mater’s alumni gatherings in Chicago during a typical Marta-style road trip adventure and had the pleasure of meeting up with the incomparable Toni Williams, or TWILLI for those of you who follow her writing. I read her early work and we communicated back and forth via social media from time to time, but when we got in the room together you could not tell us we hadn’t grown up together. I love it when I find another kindred spirit.
In fact, Toni was one of the people who inspired me to work at my blogging and definitely contributed to the process of my development of TheWRITEaddiction. So I shouldn’t be surprised that homegirl took me to school again with her recent post about a close encounter of a cult kind that is an invitation to a conversation we all should get geared up to have with our loved ones. Take a moment to go read Toni’s piece, don’t worry, I’ll wait…
I had a few strong thoughts after reading this wonderfully articulated article.
1. I can definitely be counted in that great and glorious group of thug aunties that will come for anyone who tries to harm Toni’s littles. It’s a Tougaloo thing.
2. I can remember several times in my life when I have had close encounters of the cult kind. I thank God I had the kind of parents who, like Toni, equipped me with the teaching and training I needed not to be one of those tragic stories of lost souls.
3. We don’t talk about how to identify predatory behavior that I associate with dogmatic and unhealthy cult culture enough in the communities that I live in and around and between, especially within predominantly African American communities of faith. Allow me to expand on this one a bit.
Let’s begin with a little operational definition so you all will know exactly where I am coming from on this one. In this conversation I am operationally defining “cult” or “cult culture” as:
1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies; and,
2. a community of practice that employs the tactics of isolationism, fear mongering, and emotional or physical abuse to restrict the free-will and critical thinking of individuals to the detriment of their mental, emotional and physical well-being.
I have seen each of the tactics Toni highlighted at play within some of the “faith communities” I have encountered in my lifetime. I have seen young and young at heart alike swayed into destructive environments under the guise of developing their spiritual lives.
Now before someone misunderstands let me be clear about the fact that I believe in God and I am a Christian by choice and practice. Choosing to be a part of a church or denomination does not mean that by default you are ascribing to being in a cult as I have defined it in this conversation. Go ahead and scroll back up if you need to review my definition of a cult, I’ll wait…
Toni does an excellent job of highlighting some of the warning signs to look for to help identify whether there is a destructive cult-like influence looking to infiltrate your life. And know this, it’s not just children and young adults that fall victim to cult influences. We all of us have insecurities and find ourselves searching for ways of coping with trauma and life course corrections at many points in our lives. Those of us in the African American community are usually also aware that our community does not habitually access professional mental health and counseling services as much as we should. Now perhaps more than ever we NEED those tools to help us guard against harmful influences like cults.
I hope that you all will take the time to read the personal testimony that Toni bravely shared about her close encounter. I also hope that you will then take this information and have the very important conversation(s) with your loved ones so that we can help protect one another from being caught up in a destructive cult community. Finally, if you are reading this and you or someone you know has been or currently might be caught up in a destructive cult-like community of practice here are some resources that you can access for information.
Marta C. Youngblood is a writer, education and social entrepreneur based in Hot Springs, Arkansas. For more information on her current projects visit https://about.me/MCyoungblood.